Women and Cardiovascular Disease: Pregnancy, the Forgotten Risk Factor

Heart Lung Circ. 2020 May;29(5):662-667. doi: 10.1016/j.hlc.2019.09.011. Epub 2019 Dec 7.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and disability in women globally, accounting for 32% of deaths in females. There are several female-specific risk factors for CVD that are under appreciated clinically, insufficiently researched and not given adequate attention in CVD risk prediction. Hypertensive and metabolic disorders of pregnancy are independent risk factors for the development of premature CVD. They confer more than double the risk of CVD in exposed women, but are not included in any current, multivariable CVD risk prediction models. Failure to recognise this risk leads to a lost opportunity to identify at risk women, institute primary preventive strategies, and potentially improve their health trajectory. This also translates into a missed opportunity to educate women and their families about their CVD risks, and to a lack of awareness and prioritisation of CVD within the broader community. Improving CVD outcomes for women globally also requires attention to research methodology and analysis. Researchers should be encouraged to include a thorough pregnancy history in prospective CVD datasets and to power their studies to report on gender disaggregated CVD outcomes. Particular attention should be given to the inclusion of young women of child-bearing age in CVD intervention trials. Ultimately, women should be offered CVD assessment using gender specific risk prediction models that are validated across broad ethic and socioeconomic groups. These prediction models should account for female specific risk factors and their complex interactions with traditional risk factors. This will pave the way for a gender-specific approach to CVD diagnosis, investigation and management.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Pre-eclampsia; Pregnancy; Risk calculators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cause of Death / trends
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Morbidity / trends
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / prevention & control*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors